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7/21/2013 6:47 P.M. ET

Ohlendorf bails out bullpen, earns start Friday

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Ross Ohlendorf saved the bullpen during a 9-2 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon.

After starter Jordan Zimmermann was hit hard for seven runs in two innings, Ohlendorf entered the game, pitched six solid innings, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out six batters. He retired 11 out of the last 12 batters he faced. At one point during the game, Ohlendorf's fastball was clocked as high as 97 mph.

The outing has earned Ohlendorf a chance to start in Friday's doubleheader against the Mets.

"It was a tough game for us. It's my job as a long guy to save the bullpen. I was glad I was able to do it again," Ohlendorf said. "I just know that's my role. Certainly, you don't expect Jordan to have a rough outing. He has been so dominant.

"[Catcher Kurt Suzuki] did a good job. When I walked [Carl] Crawford [in the fifth inning], he came out and told me to make sure I pound the zone. It helped me pitch deep into the game for us. So he helped me stay focused."

Now where did that 97-mph fastball come from? According to Ohlendorf, the last time he threw a 97-mph fastball was four years ago, when he was with the Pirates. The last couple of years, he had some shoulder injuries and he says health is the reason he has been able to throw hard.

"I feel a lot better is one thing. Otherwise, I'm not really sure," Ohlendorf said. "I changed a couple of things. I don't know what exactly caused it."

Nats players defend hitting coach Eckstein

WASHINGTON -- Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein has been the center of attention lately because the team's offense is one of the worst in the Major Leagues.

But talk to center fielder Denard Span and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and Eckstein is not the one in the batter's box. It's up to the players to perform, they said. Manager Davey Johnson already said Eckstein's job is not in jeopardy.

"Rick doesn't hit. We are the ones that go up there and hit," Zimmerman said. "He does everything he can to prepare us. At this level, hitting coaches let you know what the pitcher throws, lets you know what the scouting reports say, and he is great at that. Obviously, he knows all of our swings and what we need to do to stay at the highest level that we can. But to put the blame on him is not what we need to do. We are the ones that need to get the hits."

Span said Eckstein helps the players prepare for the pitcher they are facing that day.

"We as players have to take some responsibility. He can't get in the box and have an at-bat for us," Span said. "It's hard for me to say it's his fault when we haven't been hitting."

The Nationals hope they can start hitting on Sunday, with first baseman Adam LaRoche back in the lineup against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. It allowed Johnson to put to put Bryce Harper back in the leadoff spot. Span started the game on the bench, while Scott Hairston received the start in left field. When Span returns to the lineup, he will hit seventh in the order.

LaRoche missed the last two games because of the flu, but he says he is feeling better.

"I never had a good flu. It was no fun. I had body aches, sweating and chills and then sweating, everything is sore," LaRoche said. "I feel all right. Obviously, the strength is not there. I feel a lot better. I sent [Johnson] a text telling him I could play if they let me."

Quote of the day

"There is no one way to hit. When everyone says he takes too many pitches or he swings at the first pitch too much -- the way I hit worked out for me my whole career. You go through a bad week and all of a sudden you need to swing at the first pitch. Those are the people that get caught up in things and don't know the game. This isn't a one-week season. When you try to change things after one week, it's one of those things that cause more problems."
-- Zimmerman

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.